Helping Kids Manage Stress. Published in Blank Slate Media.
In this monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center answer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: When I think about my youth, it seems like it was so easy compared to what our children face today. It’s not just the pandemic—although that is certainly an enormous factor—but also the pressures from social media, school, other kids, etc. How can I help my two daughters manage all the stress that they’re facing?
– Missing the Good Old Days
Dear Good Old Days: Many adults reflect on their childhood through rose-colored glasses, remembering fun family vacations, games of flashlight tag, selling lemonade on the corner and all the other good stuff. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with reveling in such memories.
But if we take off those glasses, we’re likely to also remember the pressures of doing well in school, or the bully who made us feel frightened and small, or the fights our parents had over money.
Childhood isn’t now (and probably never was) a scene out of old sitcoms like The Andy Griffith Show or The Brady Bunch. We had plenty of stresses to manage as we grew into adulthood. Still, in modern culture, childhood stress has reached a whole new level.
As you said, the COVID pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetimes, and it not only created new and traumatic issues, it magnified the ones that already existed. While losing a normal year of school brought challenges, for many children and teens, school had been a high-pressure zone for years. Today’s youth are often overbooked with extracurricular activities. And, in the biggest change of all, they experience a constant barrage of social media messages that can often make them feel like they’ll never measure up to their peers.
One thing that is essential to healthy development is free time to daydream, but children and teens spend most of their time on digital devices, be it their smartphones, videogames or other tech gadgets.
And COVID isn’t the only worry haunting our children. Kids are not immune to the news on school shootings, climate change and social unrest, with people taking sides and forgetting how to disagree with a measure of kindness and civility.
All of these messages and non-stop activities can be overwhelming. Following are seven ways you can help your children manage their stress level and find balance in their lives.
- If your kids are booked with activities and homework from dusk to dawn, ask them if they are feeling overwhelmed. Let them know you will not be disappointed if they decide to lighten their schedule.
- While you can’t shield your children from your own stresses, it’s important not to overwhelm them and transfer your anxieties onto them. Be mindful of your language when discussing subjects like financial or health concerns around your kids, especially the little ones.
- How you respond to stressors in your life will have a huge impact on how your children learn to do the same. Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, model behavior that can be helpful to your child, such as taking a deep breath, exercising, reading or spending time in nature.
- Did your child see something on the news or hear something from friends that scared them? Don’t simply tell them not to worry; talk to them about their fears without judgment and reassure them that your family is safe.
- Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. Some quick tips: Eliminate electronics at least an hour before bed; suggest that they read a book, or read with them; and when it’s time to turn off the lights, keep the room dark.
- Kids feel more comfortable when the family has routines that they can depend on. One simple idea: Institute family game night, so everyone will experience a fun and relaxing time together.
- If they are experiencing signs of depression and anxiety that are impacting their daily functioning, don’t be reluctant to reach out for professional help.
During the pandemic, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is seeing clients remotely via telehealth platforms or, when deemed necessary, in person. To make an appointment, call (516) 626-1971 or email email@example.com.